American Churches don’t know Persecution

Several years ago, NIKE came out with an advertising campaign centered about Bo Jackson. Jackson is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, and during his career played two professional sports. He would be seen on the baseball field with the Kansas City Royals and then with the LA Raiders during football season.

NIKE capitalized on his popularity and skill by developing a campaign called “Bo Knows.” Bo knew football and baseball for sure, but then commercials showed him playing other sports with NIKE’s new cross-trainer shoes. The advertisement was a huge success.

American churches know about a lot of things. We know how to develop programs and activities. We know how to schedule meetings. We know how to talk about ministry, and occasionally do ministry. American churches deal with a consumer-driven culture and attempt to develop methodologies that will connect with millennials and baby busters. There are numerous conversations about worship style and effectiveness. Yet, while we may know about those things, the American church really doesn’t know about persecution.

Here is a recent ABP article that depicts the difficulty and stress that Christians endure in another part of the world that is less friendly to Christianity. I am convicted by the kind of faithfulness that is required to continue gathering as God’s people when their is government interference and opposition. The saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” is certainly true in this case.

I’ve heard people talk about the church in the US being persecuted. I think, rather, that it means that our majority position is weakening. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The church should never be confused with its culture, but always existing as a presence for Christ that whose “kingdom is not of this world.” We should look at this development as a positive thing, an opportunity to provide a different and authentic witness to our world.

In the Apocalypse of John, he wrote seven letters to different churches and to one of those he accused them of “forsaking their first love.” I interpret that to mean that there are other things which can enter into the body of Christ and replace him as the focal point of their existence. It is a subtle shift, but it can happen.

I am not one who always condemns and criticizes the church. There are others who enjoy going off on rants and can accomplish that purpose. There’s always problems in the church, after all, we are dealing with sinful people. However, when the church is at its best, the church is the best hope for the world. We are “salt and light” and these metaphors become all the more significant when we are made aware of our belonging to an eternal Kingdom rather than a temporal one. And, now more than ever, our churches are in great need of renewal. Apathy is a greater danger than being arrested for our faith.

So, rather than lament our changing American landscape, let’s instead seek to find ways to be effective in our witness. Let’s reaffirm “our first love” and recognize that the 21st century conditions are in many ways similar to the 1st century. That will mean that our churches will need to behave accordingly.

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